The US President gave an astonishing speech on Tuesday where he threatened ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen’ after suggestions the reclusive communist state has cleared a final hurdle to being able to strike the United States with a nuclear missile.
And Trump’s bombastic rhetoric continued on Wednesday morning, as he tweeted that ‘there will never be a time when we (America) are not the most powerful nation in the world.’
Pyongyang had fanned the flames of military tension by saying said it was examining its operational plans for attacking Guam, a US territory about 2,100 miles away and home to Andersen Air Force Base, in order to contain American military activity there.
In a statement distributed by the state-run news agency on Wednesday, the North Korean army said it was studying a plan to create an “enveloping fire” in areas around Guam with medium to long-range ballistic missiles.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged calm and said Americans should have “no concerns” after North Korea and President Donald Trump traded fiery threats.
He said he does not believe there is “any imminent threat”, and “Americans should sleep well at night”.
US BOMBING MISSION
Following the response from North Korea, America released pictures of supersonic B-1B bombers flying out to Japan from the Guam Air Force base that Kim Jong-un has threatened to attack.
The mission took place just hours before Pyongyang revealed its plans to strike the U.S. territory, which is home to some 163,000 people.
One of the pilots with the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1 said: “How we train is how we fight and the more we interface with our allies, the better prepared we are to fight tonight.”
North Korea said the exercise “proves that the U.S. imperialists are nuclear war maniacs”.
‘FIRE AND FURY’
Although it was not clear if US president Mr Trump and the Koreans were responding directly to each other, the heightened rhetoric added to the potential for a miscalculation that might bring the nuclear-armed nations into conflict.
“North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” said a stern-looking Mr Trump. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Mr Trump’s stern words to the camera at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, came hours after reports indicating North Korea can now wed nuclear warheads with its missiles, including those that may be able to hit the American mainland.
North Korea’s nuclear advances were detailed in an official Japanese assessment and a Washington Post story that cited US intelligence officials and a confidential Defence Intelligence Agency report.
The US now puts the North Korean arsenal at up to 60 nuclear weapons, more than double most assessments by independent experts.
The newly-revealed US intelligence assessment indicates those missiles can carry nuclear warheads.
Condemning the UN sanctions, the North warned: “We will make the US pay by a thousand-fold for all the heinous crimes it commits against the state and people of this country.”
For North Korea, having a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America would be the ultimate guarantee against invasion by its superpower adversary and is an ambition decades in the making.
The secrecy of the North’s nuclear programme and the underground nature of its test explosions make it very difficult to properly assess its claims, but the new assessments from Japan and the US suggest that doubts over the North’s abilities are receding.
In an annual report, Japan’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday concluded that “it is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads”.
However, a nuclear expert who has repeatedly visited North Korea’s nuclear facilities said he doubted the country was yet capable of attacking Guam with medium to long-range missiles, saying escalating rhetoric from both the North and the US was the real danger.
Siegfried Hecker, a professor at Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Co-operation, said although the North tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, developing a nuclear warhead for such a missile was “extremely challenging and still beyond North Korea’s reach”.
Prof Hecker said the real threat was “stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula by misunderstanding or miscalculation”.
He added: “Inflammatory rhetoric on both sides will make that more likely.”
Residents in Guam will no doubt be concerned over North Korea’s threats to hit them with Hwasong-12 missiles, which it says can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.
But Pyongyang is still believed to lack expertise to allow a missile to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere without burning up and another work in progress is the ability to strike targets with accuracy.
The domestic response has seen some criticise Trump for his choice of language – with Democrat Ted Lieu describing the President as “reckless”.
He tweeted: “Reckless for @POTUS to make provocative statements about North Korea & back US into a corner.
“We need de-escalation, not a miscalculation.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, has urged calm and said Americans should have “no concerns” after North Korea and President Donald Trump traded fiery threats.
Mr Tillerson said President Trump was trying to send a strong and clear message to North Korea’s leader so that there would not be “any miscalculation”.
“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Mr Tillerson said.
Senator John McCain – a Republican – said he “took exception” to Trump’s comments, and argued that his tough rhetoric was unlikely to calm rising tensions.
He told Arizona radio station KTAR: “I don’t know what he’s saying and I’ve long ago given up trying to interpret what he says.
“That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.”
He added: “In other words, the old walk softly but carry a big stick, Teddy Roosevelt’s saying, which I think is something that should’ve applied because all it’s going to do is bring us closer to a serious confrontation.
“I think this is very, very, very serious.”
The international community condemned North Korea’s threats, with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull describing the country as reckless, provocative, dangerous and a threat to peace.
He said: “Its conduct is illegal, it’s reckless, it’s provocative, it’s dangerous. And it threatens the peace of the region, the peace of the world.”
Mr Turnbull said a conflict with North Korea would be shattering and have “catastrophic consequences”.
He said the global community was united in seeking to impose the maximum economic pressure on North Korea “to bring them to their senses without conflict”.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with matters related to North Korea, said the North’s army statement hurt efforts to improve inter-Korean relations.
Ministry spokesman Baek Tai-hyun said Seoul remained committed to both dialogue and sanctions for solving the North Korean nuclear problem and called for Pyongyang to stop its provocations.